The Maldives Supreme Court on Monday annulled the results of last month's presidential elections, in a move likely to deepen international concern amid high tensions on the troubled Indian Ocean archipelago.
The court annulled the first round of voting, which was held on September 7 and won by former leader Mohamed Nasheed, and ordered a fresh ballot.
"The court in a majority decision of 4-3 annulled the elections and ordered fresh elections on October 20," a court official told reporters after the long-awaited judgement.
The court ordered that a run-off election should be held before November 4 so that the new leader could take office by the constitutionally mandated November 11 deadline, the official said.
The vote was seen as a key test a year and a half after the violent ousting of Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected president, who came to power in 2008.
Local and international observer groups found the first round of voting to be free and fair.
But the court suspended the run-off election while it heard a petition into allegations of electoral fraud made by a defeated candidate, businessman Qasim Ibrahim, who demanded that the results be annulled.
Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had won the first round with 45.45 percent of the vote, but not the minimum required 50 percent to win outright.
His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has been critical of the court and there had been occasionally violent protest since the run-off was suspended on September 23, but there was no immediate sign of fresh protests after Monday's decision.
There had been growing international concern over the hold up of the run-off elections with the UN leading calls for an early resolution of the political deadlock.
Hours before Monday's ruling, six masked men set fire to a private television network that supports Nasheed's campaign.
Nasheed, who claims he was ousted in a coup, had been set to contest the run-off with Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled for three decades until 2008.